Some ladies make it a point to be “at home” almost every day at a certain hour, and serve tea or coffee in their drawing-rooms, accompanied by either wafers, macaroons, fancy cakes, or small delicate sandwiches, and perhaps bouillon for masculine callers.
Such a lady who is bright and interesting, who gives a warm welcome, yet does not bind any one to a longer stay than the conventional ten minutes, is sure of drawing about her a delightful circle of acquaintances, men and women alike being pleased to drop in on their way home from the city, or from more pretentious gatherings.
This is the afternoon tea in its simplest form. In London afternoon tea is universal. If you are calling anywhere in the latter part of the afternoon, tea and thin bread and butter will be offered you as a matter of course, or if it has already been handed round, you will be asked if you have had your tea, and if not a fresh supply will be immediately brought.
If bread is thin enough, butter fresh, cake good, and tea and coffee perfection, you have provided all that is necessary. In warm weather ices or strawberries could be added. In England you will very seldom be given more than this at the best houses, and in Italy, where the afternoon receptions are the most agreeable entertainments imaginable, you will never be offered anything more than dainty little cakes, chocolate and tea. These slight refreshments are usually served in the simplest way. The hostess herself, or if the guests are numerous a white-capped bonne or two, pours out the tea and chocolate and the men of the party hand it to the ladies. Often the children of the house flit to and fro, carrying cups of tea or plates of cake, and everybody talks to everybody else. There will be the best pictures on the walls or the easels, often the best music from people the world knows well, and a reception thus simple in point of refreshment, but rich in the pleasures of art, is a memorable delight.
The bachelor women in their cosy little city apartments refuse to be debarred from the pleasure and privilege of giving the little entertainments so dear to the heart feminine. They not only give the most charming little “teas” and “coffees,” but they are past masters in the use of the chafing dish and those who have feasted with them will no longer deem that liveried service and stately rooms are necessary to the proper receiving of one’s friends.
To attend a simple, informal afternoon tea, wear a pretty visiting dress, a slightly frivolous hat and nice gloves (which are naturally removed before eating and drinking). A suit worn with a decorative blouse is also appropriate, preferably of the “dressmaker” variety and not too severe. If you are the hostess, there is no better choice than the tea-gown.